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RCOG policy briefing: Zika virus in pregnancy

News 16 December 2015

View the latest Zika guidance here

Public Health England (PHE) has issued a briefing note to healthcare professionals about the increase in Zika virus (ZIKV) in parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands because of a potential association between infection with ZIKV in pregnant women and increased risk of congenital and neurological complications to the fetus.   

Guidance on ZIKA can be found on the Gov.UK website.

Information for members

This briefing is aimed at all O&G doctors, GPs, midwives and nurses providing care in maternity services.    

ZIKV is an emerging viral infection that usually causes a mild febrile illness similar to dengue and chikungunya. Like dengue and chikungunya, ZIKV is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes which are present throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. There has been an increase in the numbers of ZIKV infections in the aforementioned regional populations since 2014.

 In November 2015, the Brazilian Ministry of Health (MoH) declared a public health emergency following reports of a 20-fold increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly.  Current evidence suggests that mother-to-child transmission of ZIKV can occur through the placenta, and a possible relationship between the increase in microcephaly and the ongoing ZIKV outbreak has been suggested by the MoH, although further investigations are ongoing to establish whether there is a causal relationship.

The roles and responsibilities of doctors

Although Zika does not occur naturally in the UK, all O&G doctors should be aware of the current international situation.  

It is not a contagious disease and does not spread from person-to-person. The risk of complications and death in adults is rare.

PHE’s advice for healthcare professionals treating pregnant women is to remain vigilant, especially if women are known to have visited the Americas, Caribbean or Pacific Islands recently. This advice applies across the United Kingdom.

Symptoms include mild fever, headaches, rash, conjunctivitis and joint pain.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have also issued an update to their risk assessment

If you suspect a woman in your care may have ZIKV, please speak to the infectious diseases lead in your hospital/trust.   The Imported Fever Service (IFS) is available to infectious disease clinicians/microbiologists for clinical advice on 0844 778 8990. Lines are open 24/7. 

Samples for testing should be sent to the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL) at PHE. For more advice, call 01980 612 348.

If you are aware that a pregnant woman in your care is travelling to a country with an increased risk of ZIKV, please advise them to take scrupulous measures to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, both during daytime and night time hours. More information about this is available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre.


View more information about the Imported Fever Service (IFS) and Rare and imported pathogens laboratory (RIPL)

For more information about the RCOG’s policy and public affairs activities, please contact us on or +44 20 7772 6446.